Thursday, April 26, 2012

Delicious: Freezer Cooking

This week was my first attempt at freezer cooking!  Instead of doing everything in one day (which is probably easier, but I digress), I split up my plans into cooking "sessions" that I could fit into my normal daily routine.

Note:  I took some pictures for Tuesday on my Phone, but then they photos would not upload to my computer or Facebook! :(  I went into extra detail so you could have more of an idea what I was doing ;)

Ground Chuck/Beef; Fruit
I picked up some fruit while grocery shopping (to add to some fruit we had) to make a large fruit salad!  Mine has 1 can chunk pineapple (packed in pineapple juice), 2 mangoes, 1 pint strawberries, and 4 bananas.  I forgot to take pictures while cutting up the fruit -- plus my hands were juicy and sticky!

Total Cost:  $3.97 (just under $0.50 per serving)
Time:  5-7 minutes

I also bought two large onions to add to my beef mixture; I used a little more than one onion in the mixture and sauteed the rest so we could have some cooked onions handy in the freezer!  Make sure to heat the skillet BEFORE adding ingredients (to medium-high heat); I used 4 tbsp unsalted butter and 1 tbsp each salt and pepper.

Melt most of the butter (nice trick to keep from burning), then add onions; stir to coat.  Add salt and pepper, stir occasionally -- it needs to sit so it can cook and brown evenly!  When onions begin to soften, reduce temp to medium heat; let cook low and slow to desired carmalization.  Note:  It takes a long time to completely caramelize onions.  Plan on the process taking at least 30 minutes to partially caramelize (like I did).  Is it worth the time.  YES!

Total Cost:  $0.59 (about $0.15 per use)
Time:  35 minutes

Finally I got to the beef mixture!  While I made the onions, I let the beef (3 lbs) sit out to take the chill off so the meat would not be "shocked" by the hot pan.  I removed the onions from the pan (above) with a slotted spoon, returned it to medium-high heat, and added the onion and beef mixture.  I only added salt and pepper (1 1/2 tbsp each) to this mix since it will be used in various dishes.

Other seasonings I recommend:  parsley, basil, steak seasoning, red pepper, garlic powder (or just minced fresh garlic), ginger, and Italian seasoning.  If you know what you are using it for, you can also add in other veggies, like green pepper or spinach.  Keep an eye on your meat:  make sure to break it into small pieces and only cook to medium-well.  If it is well done, it will be overdone when you add it to a meal.  I let my mixture drain completely in a metal colander and remain there to cool completely.

Total Cost:  $7.66 ($2.55 per mixture portion, $0.64 per serving)
Time:  12-14 minutes

I used the rest of the beef (2 lbs) to make hamburgers, half for dinner and half for the freezer.  I added Worcestershire sauce, reduced-sodium soy sauce, 2 tsp pepper, 2 tsp garlic powder, 2 tsp Italian seasoning, and 2 tsp parsley to the beef, mixed it with my hands, covered with a paper towel, and left to marinate in the fridge for about an hour.  I split the mixture in half, and each half was split into four patties.

I have found the best way to make patties by hand is to 1) roll the mix into a tight ball in your hands, 2) begin pressing the ball as you roll it (into a "spaceship" disc), 3) stop rolling; twist and press hands in opposite directions, and 4) make an indentation in the middle (to keep shape while cooking).  The warmth from rolling it begins to melt the fat in the meat, allowing it to hold the patty together, and the twisting keeps small pieces from falling off the outside of the burger.  I put 4 raw patties in the freezer; the other 4 I cooked  for dinner!  I started on very high heat (and preheated before adding my burgers); after flipping, I reduced to medium high/high to allow the burgers to cook through without burning.

Total Cost: $4.58 ($0.57 per burger)
Time:  1 hour (marinade), 10-12 min (patties), 8-10 min (cook time)

On the side I made Roasted Zucchini and Squash, a recipe I perfected over Easter.  I used one medium zucchini and two small yellow squash.  Wash, remove ends, quarter lengthwise, then slice into 1-inch pieces.  Preheat oven to 400; place foil on a baking tray and spray with oil.  Add the zucchini and squash; coat evenly with salt and pepper (I used about 1 tbsp each) and let sit at least 15 minutes (30 minutes is great, 45 is even better).  Roast in oven for 12-15 minutes; turn off oven, wait 2 minutes, and remove from oven.  The salt pulls the juices from the veggies, which creates a buttery "sauce."  By waiting to pull the squash from the oven, it continues coking at a lower temp to finish them and keep them from drying out.

Total Cost:  $3 (about $0.38 per serving)
Time:  45 min

Not bad for one afternoon!

Total Time Spent:
2 hrs -- fruit and freezer cooking (with some dish washing and e-mail checking in the middle)
30-45 min -- prep and cook dinner

Total Cost:  
$14.51 for fruit salad, 3 batches beef and onion mix, 1 large batch grilled onions, and 4 burgers
$5.29 for Dinner (4 burgers with zucchini and squash) + leftovers

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